2004-12-09 / Arts & Entertainment

“Closer” Is ‘Brutal And Breathtaking To Watch’

By Christy Lemire AP Movie Critic

By Christy LemireAP Movie Critic

Jude Law and Julia Roberts co-star in “Closer.”       ©2004Columbia PicturesJude Law and Julia Roberts co-star in “Closer.” ©2004Columbia Pictures

  • Jude Law and Julia Roberts and Clive Owen and Natalie Portman fall giddily in love in “Closer,’’ but don’t be fooled: This is the furthest thing possible from a date movie.
  • These inordinately beautiful people end up doing extraordinarily ugly things to one another — Portman, all grown up and playing a stripper, commits some of her offenses in little more than a G-string — and the way they destroy each other and themselves is both brutal and breathtaking to watch.

    The newest film from director Mike Nichols is reminiscent of his first, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” from 1966, for the intensity of its performances and the rawness of its emotions. (Owen is especially scorching as Roberts’ cuckolded dermatologist hus-band.)

    “Closer” often has the claustrophobic vibe of a play, which is, in fact, the basis for the film: Patrick Marber adapted his London stage production for the script. And it closes in on melodrama toward the end, but not in a way that’s unbelievable. If these people didn’t already have drama in their lives, they’d have to manufacture it.

    Wannabe novelist Dan (Law), whose day job consists of writing obituaries, meets Alice (Portman) in a mesmerizing opening sequence in which the two characters walk toward each other, in slow motion, as strangers flirting from afar on a crowded London street. Suddenly, as Alice steps off the curb to cross the street, she’s hit by a car (the young American forgets that traffic flows the opposite way in Britain). When she regains consciousness, the first thing she sees is Dan’s flawlessly pretty face, and the two share a playful chemistry in the hospital waiting room and beyond.

    Dan, by the way, is Law’s “Alfie” character without the Prada wardrobe: He still manages to get whatever he wants simply through his good looks and charm. This makes him an ideal inhabitant of the film’s parallel universe, where the regular rules don’t apply and people just flirt with each other, pursue each other, fall in in-stant, insatiable love with each other, cheat on each other and then abandon each other with the eventual intention of getting back together with each other again.

    When we see Dan a year later (the film jumps forward in time across a four-year period, and subtly fills in the gaps), he’s living with Alice, he’s writ-ten his novel and he’s having his head shot taken for the book jacket by photographer Anna (Roberts, bleached blonde) in her clean, open loft. He kisses her because he feels like it — and the kiss is heartstopping because it’s gentle and passionate at the same time, and because the people doing it are gorgeous.

    Dan later dallies online in a sex chat room, where he pretends to be a wo-man named Anna. (This part feels like a bit of a reach, as if Nichols is trying too hard to be edgy, but it’s good for a laugh.) There he meets Larry (Owen), a doctor who’s being truthful about his identity, and with whom he engages in incredibly graphic cybersex. The two agree to meet at an aquarium the next day and whaddya know? – Larry shows up and meets the real Anna, and they quickly fall in love.

    Subsequent permutations find Anna marrying Larry but having an affair with Dan, and the scene in which she admits her infidelity – and Larry demands all the gory details, although he probably doesn’t really want to hear “I’m disgusting,’’ Anna whimpers, though she doesn’t sound entirely con-trite.

    “You’re phenomenal,’’ Larry responds with awe and venom in his voice. “You’re so clever.”

    Alice moves out when Dan tells her of his affair with Anna and returns to her former life as a stripper. This allows for another painful scene from Larry, who comes in for a lap dance but ends up throwing money at her for information/comfort/you name it – he’s so screwed up.

    Not much hope seems to exist for these people, even if they can manage to forge some semblance of a happy ending, simply because too much dam-age has been done. For that reason alone, “Closer” is admirably honest.

    Some also have hailed it as being the rare film about romance that’s truly for adults. If that’s true, I’d rather be a high-school kid again, making out in the back seat of a car, blissful in the thrall of adolescent ignorance.

    “Closer,” is rated R for sequences of graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/ sexuality and language. Running time: 103 minutes.

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